United States flags Malta’s ‘harsh treatment’ of asylum seekers

‘Harsh treatment’ of asylum seekers is Malta’s most serious human rights problem – Department of State human rights review

The regular update on Malta’s human rights regime once again flagged the shortcomings of Malta’s asylum policy,
The regular update on Malta’s human rights regime once again flagged the shortcomings of Malta’s asylum policy,

The Maltese government's “harsh treatment” of detained irregular migrants and asylum seekers from North Africa is still the country’s “most serious human rights problem”, the United States Department of State ha said in its human rights report for 2013.

The regular update on Malta’s human rights regime once again flagged the shortcomings of Malta’s asylum policy, which detains all asylum seekers without leave of entry, directing the strongest criticism at housing conditions and inadequate government programmes for integrating migrants into Maltese society.

The 2013 report, published in February, also said that other significant problems included lengthy delays in the judicial system, which sometimes diminished individuals’ access to due process. “Societal problems” included child abuse, trafficking in persons, and substandard work conditions for irregular migrants.

The DoS however said that the Maltese government had taken steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in security services or elsewhere in government. There were no reports of impunity.

Refugee protection

In 2013, over 2,000 irregular migrants arrived in Malta by sea, but according to the DoS were spending an average of two months in detention pending the resolution of their asylum claim.

Some detainees remain imprisoned for up to 18 months when their claims are rejected twice on appeal, which is illegal according to recent ECHR rulings.

“Individuals awaiting decisions on their cases occasionally protested their detention or attempted to escape from detention centres. Within a matter of days (usually less than two weeks) after their initial detention, authorities moved ‘vulnerable individuals’ such as children, pregnant women, elderly persons, and parents with infants to open centres where they were free to come and go. Migrant children were eligible for all government social services and assigned a caseworker.”

All detainees whose cases were not resolved within 18 months are released, regardless of whether the police had arranged to repatriate them. Although they were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, only a few chose to participate. As of November 2013, there were 1,602 migrants living in three open centres.

The government rarely repatriated asylum applicants, although they had the option of voluntary return to their country of origin. As of October 8, there were 46 assisted voluntary returns.

“Overcrowding persisted at the country’s largest migrant open housing centre in Marsa. Friable asbestos was present in one of the common areas; however, a process was underway to remove all the asbestos by March 2014. In other centres high temperatures in the summer months and inadequate ventilation in prefabricated housing units contributed to uncomfortable living conditions,” the DoS said.

European Court decisions

In August 2013, the European Court of Human Rights issued eight judgments against Malta involving violations regarding the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment; the effective remedy to challenge lawfulness of detention; unlawful detention; no punishment without law; protection of property; right to a fair trial within a reasonable time and access to court; and, right to liberty and security. The government took steps to comply with ECHR orders.

In July the ECHR fined the country €33,000 and €27,000 for violating the human rights of two irregular migrants with an excessive detention period.

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